Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Future is Now (Flee for Your Lives!)

Just wondering what you think of Amazon's new Kindle? Do you have one? Would you use one? Is it here to stay? What do the big wigs at the big houses have to say? Are they nervous?
I have used a Sony Reader, and it looks handy for reading submissions (especially longer ones) when the goal is a 'yes' or a 'no'. You can't make notes on them, though, so they won't work for editing. I haven't tried the Kindle yet, but I hear you can make notes. Has anyone else tried one? Thoughts?

Reactions in the book industry are mixed, I think. On the one hand, we've seen tremendous changes in the way music and video reach people in the last fifty years. And while there are still people with players for vinyl records and tapes, there are more and more people (like me) who no longer even own CDs.

On the other hand, the way books reach people has changed very little in the last half-century, or, in fact, in the last 500 years. And you've got to remember that most people in the book industry are hard-core book enthusiasts, and that means they are deeply attached to the physical idea of a book.

So imagining an itunes-like change for the book industry is both difficult and painful for many insiders. I think there's a little bit of denial going around.
I also think that realistically, it's going to happen--one day, most bookstores and libraries will be online, and most books bought will be digital. We'll still need writers and illustrators and editors and designers and publishers and librarians and booksellers... but there will be adjustments to be made.
What I don't think is that this change is right around the corner, so there's no need for hyperventilation. The companies (and individuals) who watch for change and embrace it do just fine. The thing that has book people nervous right now is that it's not clear what the change is going to be; just how it's going to work. It's going to be ok, though. We'll figure it out.


Karen said...

I'd be happy to have a reader for "disposable" sorts of books, like paperback genre fiction that I know I'll only read once. Yes, I know used bookstores are good for that sort of book -- buy it cheap, sell it back -- but I imagine Harlequin would be all over technology like this if they could get their readers to adopt it. Instead of using up tons of paper to mail out their subscription books, send them as ebooks to an electronic reader. Many trees saved, much shelf space saved, far fewer Harlequin Romances ending up in landfills.

Ditto for magazines. I once read someone's (non-serious) theory that the world would end when it was finally crushed under the weight of all the National Geographic magazines that no one wants to throw away.

I'll be happier, though, when the readers are lightweight, easy to hold in one hand, and can toggle between backlit and non-backlit so they can be read indoors and out. There were some interesting things done with electronic ink not long ago. The non-backlit option may be coming.

And there will always be books that I want as books, the ones I want to have on my shelf and read over and over -- and never have to worry about the batteries running down or the technology going obsolete in the next five seconds.

Tabitha said...

For traveling and books I haven't read, I'd be up for an electronic reader. But for my favorite books, the ones I read over and over again, there's nothing like the cracking of the spine, the thickness of the paper, and the smell of the ink.

Regarding the Kindle, agent Kristin Nelson evaluated hers on her blog:

Anonymous said...

i feel that in a lot of ways we see the future through too grand a glass. look back the world's fairs of year past and we should all be eating full meals from pellets, driving our sky cars, and not having to work due to the perfectly run Utopian society we should have evolved into.

here will always be a market for books. real processed tree, burst bound and inked books.

look at the resurgence in the LP market despite all the benefits of digital music.

look at slow food and biodynamic farming flying in the face of technological progress.

i will say that the e reader will grow in terms of marketshare, but there will have to be agreed upon standards, there will have to a device that everyone likes. there will have to be a drop in price or some sort of Apple involvement.

i suspect some sort of tablet input as well for those who like to underline, edit, ammend their texts (i love to make notations in my books) will be the winner after all is said and done.

but there will always be a large group of people who love their volumes, libraries, the weight of a book.

Literaticat said...

i almost buy a reader every time i get a bit of scratch. but want it to be totally wireless and capable of accepting email and downloading files remotely -- and i *really really* want to be able to easily annotate and edit -- and i *really really really* want it to not come from amazon...

oh, and i want it to be super-duper cute...

and since i can't yet have all of these things in one device, i have managed to slap my own hand every time.

i suspect that there are eggheads working on all of this as i type. so one day soon!

lkmadigan said...

I shall pause with my intended hyperventilation.

Literaticat said...

Um, maybe I should clarify so that none of my clients hyperventilate - ahem - I would never not love regular books!

But I would very much enjoy not carrying ten tons of manuscripts around or having to read off my computer, which is eye-hurty.

Andy J Smith illustration said...

Someday lush, intricate book illustrations will be admired on 4 X 6" portable devices... hardly the same experience as physically turning the pages of a book you can HOLD. Intimidating and disturbing.

Brian Floca said...

I feel the compulsive need here, as elsewhere, to recommend the essay "Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal," by William Powers. You can find it, ah, online.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If there were no physical bookstores, I wouldn't have a place to take my date.

Anonymous said...

mp3 players and ipods became an "overnight" success once they became *superior* in look, in feel, in listening enjoyment and in cost ratios---over any other type of music device.

When an book-reader can offer that kind of *superior* reading experience (and you're right, EA, they will someday, tho not quite yet), the "book" will be taken to the next level.

Sure there will be growing pains, but there will also be more books for more kinds of readers, and that, dear friends, is a happy thought...


Anonymous said...

The iTunes analogy is interesting but not exact. The mighty iPod and its cousins gave us another and frequently better (more portable and more convenient) way to get -- and here's the thing -- to get what we'd been getting all along: music from speakers. (Audiophiles will object, but if the music source were hidden, most of us wouldn't know an MP3 from a CD from a cassette, etc.)

Electronic books so far are offering a substitute for the experience for reading a book or magazine, an experience which for most of us is a physical, tactile experience, not just a process of information intake. The process involves different designs for different types of reading (shape, weight, color), intuitively being able to recognize how far along you are in a book and how far you have to go, making notes on pages, and other things and sensations. Kindle, etc., seems a totally different and to my mind less enjoyable experience.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Luddite - really! - but the last thing on earth I need is another object with a power cord and a battery that needs recharging ten minutes into a seven-hour flight.

Anonymous said...

I have a Kindle and I like it a lot.

Yes, it's ugly. Yes, it's tied to Amazon. Yes, the choices for children's and YA books are not as broad as I would wish.

But there's no screen flicker, and I can email almost any kind of document to it from my computer. I love that I don't have to print drafts or manuscripts, wasting ink and paper. It is very light weight and easy to use. Typing comments is a bit easier than typing emails into a blackberry. That doesn't bother me, but it could be troublesome for someone with large hands.

That said, I still buy most books I read in regular book form, from an independent bookstore, and I can't imagine an electronic device could ever duplicate the experience of reading and enjoying the illustrations in a really beautiful picture book.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said: "I can't imagine an electronic device could ever duplicate the experience of reading and enjoying the illustrations in a really beautiful picture book."

A little dissent on that. Like a lot of illustrators, I suspect, I love the way my work looks on a screen: the transmitted light sparkles in a way that ink on paper can't come close to, especially for brighter colors. I can totally imagine an on-screen picture book.

The interesting question to me is this: what happens to the picture book as an art form when the 32-page limit is removed? The current standard is mostly determined by material and assembly costs. Lots of books from cheaper-paper eras are much longer than that. The Cat in the Hat is sixty-four.

I think just about anyone who's done a picture book has moaned about what they could have done with it if they'd just had a few extra spreads. At the same time, though, the limit hasn't just constrained artists, it's also challenged them. The responses that artists come up with to meet that challenge have been, in a lot of cases, more interesting, effective and satisfying than the work the artists would have created absent the obstacle.

Also, for artists, a more open-ended format creates a different issue: how much more art can you make for the money? The form of the digital picture book might allow for an infinite amount of material, but the budget isn't likely to. How many of us have the resources to create something on the scale of Dinotopia, say? How many publishers would fund it?

In the end, I suspect we'll see entirely new forms evolve out of the picture book gene pool in response to this entirely new environment.

But for that to happen, the environment will have to stabilize: standards will have to establish themselves firmly enough that artists feel secure enough to invest a lot of time and money in developing work for it.

And we're not there yet, by any means.

Anonymous said...

When a reader is i-pod slim with a cover that opens from a left hinge and the first thing you see is a beauteous screen of cover art...when the reader gives you a feel like you're *paging* through the book, and you can write sticky notes, highlight and brush off the cracker crumbs and wine stains...the reader will be where it needs to be...

(and yes, I posted a version of this on Bransford's site. C'mon you tekkies---make a reader that makes us swoon!)